Northwest Indiana’s largest and most popular mall was evacuated Saturday night following a shooting inside.
Frightened shoppers looked for the nearest exit at the two-story Westfield Southlake Mall after a single shot rang out at about 6:30 p.m.
Hobart police say they apprehended three teens, ages 14, 15 and 16, shortly after the shooting took place near a children’s playground at the mall.
Police say the teens got into an argument and a shot was fired by one of them. The gun apparently jammed or more shots could have been fired.
“Obviously, they have no clue as to what could've happened in a mall this busy and this crowded,” Hobart police chief Jeff White told NBC Chicago. “They were right next to a merry-go-round ... kids with their parents, children.”
Mall security and off-duty Hobart police apprehended the suspects, who are now in custody and facing charges. A fourth teen fled, but police say they know who he is from statements from the teens, and they're looking for him.
The Lake County, Ind., prosecutors will determine whether to charge the teens as adults. The teens will be held at the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center in Crown Point.
Mall-goers said the incident scared them.
“I’ve never been through anything like this. We’re all just shaken up,” Candice Thomas of Merrillville told WBEZ. “I just want to go home.”
White says his department plans to beef up security in the mall through the holiday shopping season. The Hobart Police Department has a substation inside the mall.
The mall’s owner, Westfield, declined comment.
Although the mall had been closed and evacuated following the shooting, nearby restaurants and a movie theater were not evacuated.